Bible “studies” — don’t be too sure (1 of 2)

Now that Lent (or should I say “Lenten season” — doesn’t that make the whole concocted thing somehow seem more respectable, or perhaps more authorized?) is over, I’ll confess that 1) I wanted to start a special devotional program during this time, and 2) I didn’t.  I had downloaded a “21 Days with Jesus “study” perpetrated promulgated by an organization we have supported a tad bit, but I aborted plans to use it within the first page of perusal.  Scanning this material, I found two things, basically:

  1. a lot of scripture text, and even a complete, contiguous gospe
    l (context 100% present:  good!)
  2. a lot of “now, let’s see what God wants to say for your life” (hokey at worst; unfounded at best)

The inset quotes to follow are bits of “study” advice, extracted from this material:

“Write down something you think Jesus wanted you to learn in this chapter today.”

Writing things down is good.  Where I have trouble is with the subjectivity involved in the “what I think Jesus wanted me to learn” part.  The subject — yea, and the driving force — becomes me instead of either Him or the original characters (narrative) or addressees (letters), etc.  Next, the study, encouraged thus:

“You can use the same exercise with any part of the Bible.  It’s a good way to help apply what God is saying in the Bible.”

Again I’ll acknowledge that it’s good to write things down.  Writing at least encourages a sober approach and retention.  But the suggestion that anyone should approach any part of the Bible with the same glib “what’s in this for me” attitude is nigh unto blasphemous.  This approach risks converting the word of God into the word of me.

“Try praying first:  ‘God, speak to me again today. I’m ready to listen.'”

The humility of creature before Creator in evidence in this prayer is admirable.  I admire it, and you probably do, too.  But I again must decry the idea that God makes a regular activity out of speaking to me directly and personally.  Where in the scriptures is the implication that He does that today, or that He ever did that en masse?  I believe He loves me, but I don’t believe that love equates to direct, personal communication in 2012.

Next, a threefold plan for study and application:

“Look.  Learn.  Live.”

The principles there are pretty good, I’d say, although not well worked out, and given without a hint of the needed tools.  Let’s take them one at a time, along with the working-out suggested by the authors of this “study” material.

“Look.  What is going on in this chapter?  What stands out to you?”

Looking is great.  Studying and/or beholding deeply is better.  To discover what is going on is not always as easy as it sounds.  Could we all admit, for instance, that “what stands out to me” is not always what should stand out?

“Learn.  What insights do you find in these stories?”

Searching for insights is good.  But knowing something about the context, so that the search can turn up something valid, is better.  Where is the historical or literary context support here?

“Live.  How can you live differently today because of what you’ve read and learned?”

No matter how contextually aware or unaware . . . no matter how deep or how shallow the study … no matter how devoted the “studyer” is at the outset, the living is the proof in the pudding.  I’m not doing all that well.  How are you doing?

To be continued . . .

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